James de Givenchy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 June, 2008, 12:00am

'The first thing I do when I wake up is walk my dog. She is the decision maker at this point in the day and she likes to start early - so I'm up at 6am. I go to the gym two mornings a week, which I think is the key to survival after 40. What I've found is that exercise really helps your brain.

I drop my six-year-old daughter at school on the way to my offices on 54th Street and 5th Avenue. The location is great because it's close to the diamond district and the biggest retailers in New York - we have Louis Vuitton and many of the jewellers just a few blocks up the street .

I get to the office around 8.30am and it's usually quiet. The phone calls have not started, so it's a good time to read e-mails and look at the day's appointments. I also take time to plan my trips. I try to get to most of the [international] jewellery shows - not to sell, but to find stones and keep in touch with all my dealers.

One of the two big fairs in the US is in Tucson, Arizona. It started as a gem fair where you could find really interesting stone specimens. But now, because everyone is talking about it, it's becoming like all the other fairs.

All the big diamond and stone dealers are there. I go for the smaller speciality gem and stone dealers outside the big tents - you can always find the big brands later in Switzerland, Hong Kong or Las Vegas.

In terms of jewellery design, Taffin [my own company] is all about colours, so there is no overlap in my work with white diamonds for Sotheby's [for whom he is a creative director]. It's a challenge to keep the diamond as the centre focus while still bringing in the design. The collaboration has worked well.

Sotheby's and my clients are educated jewellery buyers. They look for something with an edge. In design, you can find the edge without being trendy. Timelessness means never wanting to pull the diamond out of the mounting to be put somewhere else.

I have appointments with manufacturers throughout the day [as] I do a lot of custom work with clients. We have our own manufacturing team and there is a very close collaboration between them and the designers.

One of my more recent interests is the use of steel as a material. There are about 520 types of steel. It is probably one of the most noble materials you can find.

It's extremely hard, therefore difficult to work with. You can't cast it, so everything is hand shaped. The method is similar to the artisan Japanese sword maker, who heats and hits the steel over and over again. While we continue to use platinum and gold, I am incorporating steel into my designs.

My day is a juggling act. The more there is to do, the more I get done. It's like a storm generating its own storm; it brings ideas and creates its own energy.

We need to straighten out the image of the 'blood diamond'. I did some research on the subject because I had a problem with the concept. I want to be as clean as I can. We are in the luxury business and there are a lot of things that people can close their eyes to.

People are suffering in the world because of diamonds and there was some controversy when that movie came out. Typically, when issues 'come out' with a big movie there's always some hypocrisy - I mean, who's really making the money right now? It's Hollywood. People are also suffering because of oil and gas. There might even be a few movies out about that but it doesn't stop people filling up their tanks.

I think it's fair to mention that certain diamond companies - such as De Beers - have given an enormous amount back to the local people where they work. They develop schools and they help surrounding villages. To put it in perspective, you have to look at how sapphires have been mined for centuries or how an exotic tree ends up as your coffee table.

Lunch is not so important to me. I enjoy work too much. I usually grab something to eat at the desk or on the way to the manufacturer, which is two blocks away.

I remember when I was growing up how my dad would take two- to three-hour lunches. I don't know how he went back to work afterwards. My father worked in the commercial side of the House of Givenchy, mainly with the representatives, so there was a lot of entertaining - it was all part of the job.

I don't think my uncle [Hubert de Givenchy], who was a designer, ever took time for lunch. When I was a kid, I would go to see my uncle in the couture wing. It was a very French thing not to go in the essayage [fitting] room. I'd sit by the stairs and my uncle would come out in his big elegant white blouse and say 'Hi', and I'd try to get a peek at the models. My uncle designed for Audrey Hepburn and counted Jackie Kennedy as a client. Audrey was a good friend of his - she would personally go and pick out the things she wanted.

There are a few actresses today who I think are the genuine thing and who I would love to work with. But things are different nowadays - you're not approached by the actress or actor any more; you are approached by their agents and it's just business. If you look at Hollywood and the Oscars today, the only designers who get their stuff worn are those who pay. Even people I really like in that field, if I start talking to them I'll be getting a phone call from their agent. It's incredible - they basically have very little to say for themselves.

Ashley Judd is one actress in the US who I think is fantastic. She's done a tremendous amount of work for Unicef and speaks out about global issues. She's a very special person - if I had to pick someone to design for, it would be her.

For my spiritual well-being, the Museum of Modern Art is just across the street. Some people are not crazy about the new addition to the building but I think it's great. The last thing I saw was a Braque and Picasso exhibition, which I found extremely interesting.

In the evening, before my wife and I go out with friends or clients, I try to get home and see my daughter - she goes to bed at 7.30pm.

We're always looking for new restaurants to try, mostly downtown. For regular fare, there's a canteen called Island in our neighbourhood, which is fun, especially in the summer. I'll be in bed by 11pm. I read a little before the lights go out.'